Interview with The Head of Policy at Solidaridad Network

Empowering Smallholder Farmers in the Data Economy: Unlocking Opportunities and Overcoming Obstacles

In this blog, we interviewed Frederik Claasen, the head of policy at our partner organisation Solidaridad Network to talk about the opportunities and obstacles facing smallholder farmers in their data ecosystems. The interview questions are in bold, followed by the answers. 

From your experience working for an organisation concerned with smallholder farmers’ development and well-being, how do you qualify the status quo of digitalisation in this sector? 

In a capitalistic environment, successful business models are easily copied. The current business model of trading in data is exploitative. Even as informed users of data and related technologies, we trade our data quickly for access to services without knowing or making an informed decision on what will happen with it. Farmers, who are often not connected to a data ecosystem at all, are unaware of the power and value of their data. They do not have the position or resources to participate equally in a data ecosystem. This makes them vulnerable data subjects for traditional data business models, which cements the status quo in the sector.

Is data a commodity that smallholder farmers should be trading in? And if so, how can farmers be better positioned in its value chain?

Farmers should focus on their farming business first and invest in farming, making their farms more resilient, profitable, and balanced with nature. Farmers must own their data and benefit from sharing it. They must become an equal partner in the data ecosystem they participate in. We need to restore the power balance and make farmers aware that their data has value, and they should reap the benefits when sharing it.

Solidaridad worker presenting the outcome of one of their project in Malawi
Solidaridad worker presenting the outcome of one of their projects in Malawi.

What actions should the influential stakeholders (e.g., governments, corporations and donors) take to empower smallholder farmers in the data economy?

I think governments should revise their data governance policies in such a way that it becomes more farmer-centric. I would encourage corporations to pilot and test new business models built on farmer-centric data governance models. And donors should become more aware of the fundamentals (preconditions) needed for farmers to reap the benefits of the data economy. These donors should be willing to finance pilots that experiment with farmer-centric data governance models.

How do you see the future of digitalisation in smallholder farming?

Clear opportunities are coming from a more farmer-centric data governance. When farmers own data and have control over how this data is used, data sharing becomes much easier and in the interest of farmers. The current cost of collecting data in the field is quite high and can only decrease when organisations are willing to share data. When we put the farmer in the driving seat, data sharing will be easier and more in the interest of farmers.

Farmers in Malawi using QR provided by Solidaridad as digital IDs.
Farmers in Malawi using QR codes provided by Solidaridad as digital IDs.

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